Hands-on with Hasselblad’s Head-Turner, the X1D
June 29, 2017
What do you think of when you think of a “mirrorless” camera? Is it the ultra-compact size? 4K video? A wealth of leading-edge features? Small image sensor? A toy? A professional tool?
The Hasselblad X1D is a mirrorless camera that defies about as many mirrorless conventions as it upholds. A small sensor? Hardly. The X1D boasts a huge, 50-megapixel medium-format sensor—topping all of its mirrorless competition in the sensor-size and resolution department. But don’t go looking for an abundant feature set or 4K video. They’re nowhere to be found.
The X1D uses the same 50-megapixel Sony sensor that’s found in a number of medium-format cameras and backs, including Hasselblad’s H5 and H6 series. It delivers 16-bit color and 14 stops of dynamic range with a native ISO of 100-6400 that’s extendable to 25,600.
The camera works with a new line of XCD leaf shutter lenses and supports flash sync up to 1/2000 sec. Shutter speeds as long as 60 minutes are also available. The autofocusing system offers 35 contrast-detect AF points.
The X1D features a pair of SD card slots, built-in Wi-Fi and USB 3.0 connectivity using a future-proof Type C connector. You’ll also get an external GPS unit in the box which connects to the hot shoe to give you location data.
Aside from high-quality stills, the X1D also records full HD video at 24fps (8-bit, 4:2:0) at up to five minutes per clip. There’s a mic jack and a headphone jack tucked away neatly on the side of the camera.
There are four native XCD mount lenses available at the time of this writing, spanning 30-120mm focal lengths. Three more lenses are due this year. We tested the X1D with the 90mm f/3.2.
Clearly one of the major selling points of the X1D is its design. It’s a home run. The camera is downright tiny compared to every other medium-format camera on the market and it’s even slim by the standards of full-frame DSLRs. While it’s compact, it’s also incredibly well built and durable. With the 90mm lens attached, it’s considerably heavier than Fujifilm’s GFX-50S, but the well-contoured hand grip makes it comfortable to hold.
The mode dial is recessed to avoid accidental turns but pops up quickly, allowing you to rotate to your desired setting. It has three customizable positions.
The X1D has a 3-inch touch display that’s fixed to the camera. The menu system is extremely easy to navigate, with large icons and swipe-to-advance operation. It’s the gold standard to which other camera menus should aspire. Granted, it doesn’t hurt that there aren’t millions of features and settings tucked away in the dark recesses of the camera’s operating system, but it’s still a testament to elegant UI design.
Having seen the X1D’s sensor at work before, we weren’t surprised by the fantastic image quality and dynamic range. We were able to push the exposure of a starkly underexposed image by 5 stops in Lightroom, while knocking back the highlights, and still emerge with a fairly clean image. Skin tones and color reproduction in general are first-rate.
Noise is fairly well contained in RAW files through ISO 3200. You can remove noise without undue loss of detail at ISO 6400, but the extendable settings produced a surplus of grain. The camera isn’t necessarily ideal for very low-light conditions, but you can definitely feel comfortable shooting at the end of the native ISO range.
We suspect video recording won’t be the primary objective of anyone buying the X1D, but it’s possible. The video output tended to be a bit over-saturated and contrast-y when recording to SD cards, so be on guard for the occasional crushed black and blown out highlight. When in movie mode, the camera disables autofocusing and we found manually focusing can be a bit tricky due to the very shallow depth of field, especially for rapidly moving subjects.
When it comes to focusing speed, shutter lag and continuous shooting mode, the XID has much more in common with the bulkier backs than it does with modern mirrorless cameras. It doesn’t acquire focus all that quickly and as of this writing, continuous AF isn’t supported (though future firmware upgrades could change that).
That said, you do have 35 AF points to choose from. The camera supports AF selection using the touchscreen, but first you have to pull up the points on the display and then touch them—you can’t simply touch the display to have the camera refocus. It’s a bit of a cumbersome process. Manual focusing, on the other hand, is quite smooth and is aided by focus peaking and focus magnification (with a dedicated control to magnify your subject).
Continuous shooting clocks in at a pokey 1.7 fps or 2 fps in MQ (manual quick) mode. Rapidly panning the camera can result in some live view wobble, but otherwise the refresh rate of the EVF and rear display are adequate.
And if its compact body lulls you into thinking you can be discrete with this camera, its clanging shutter and noisy aperture changes should disabuse you of that notion. Exposure changes will definitely be picked up on the mic during video recording.
Battery life hasn’t been rated by CIPA, but we found ourselves enjoying close to 400 shots per charge (using mostly the EVF and shooting very little video). Hasselblad tells us you can expect between 200-400 shots per charge on average.
The X1D is a remarkable design statement. Hasselblad deserves kudos for creating a medium-format camera body that looks and feels fantastic—one that isn’t a chore to lug on location. The image quality from the X1D is also, unsurprisingly, excellent. While the 50-megapixel sensor isn’t cutting edge in 2017, it still delivers image files that blow away most of the conventional mirrorless competition in terms of resolution, color fidelity and dynamic range.
That said, you’re making some sacrifices with the X1D. It’s far from speedy and fluid. It’s noisy. It’s pricier than Fuji’s new GFX 50S, with fewer features. Still, it’s remarkable to have not one but two relatively inexpensive, high-quality medium-format mirrorless cameras to choose from. Let the agonizing begin.
PROS: Incredible design and build quality; excellent image quality; responsive and elegant menu system; flash sync at 1/2000 sec.
CONS: Relatively sluggish AF; video functions under-developed; camera can be noisy; live view refresh can be slow.
PRICE: $8,995 (body)